Chapter 1 Nokorimura Wake Up Call
Mel’s got an easy to memorize rule about touching her body: fucking don’t. So when she woke on that riverbank with a toothless leatherworker’s palms pressing down on her navel, you can understand why she went straight for the eyeballs. Now luckily for the guy in question - let’s call him Eta (because that’s what he deserves, that fucking eta), he narrowly avoided a future as a cyclops by flinching hard and stumbling backward, down the muddy embankment. The dentally-challenged man fumbled in the mud like a chimp on rollerskates. Mel jerked to her feet. Her joints decided this was a bad idea. She staggered, caught herself, and wiped the schmutz from her eyes. A bridge in the distance sheltered a misty, yellow light. Perhaps the lure of a massive, predatory angler fish? The image did not baste Mel with the juice of confidence.
Mel’s adrenaline breakfast made the wetness and the clothed-only-in-a-kimono-ness seem trivial. Bigger problems were afoot. Like the handsy jamoke scrabbling through the mud, losing ground with every attempt to stand. Or the river of ink stretching out before her, flowing for miles, running impossibly beyond the horizon. The river. The one that carried an endless flotilla of junk; white and stiff like surreal yew logs from a storefront window. Her head swam and she stared into the darkness, transfixed, clutching herself. The clap of sandals coming from the nearby footbridge snapped Mel back to her senses. They were closing in. But who the fuck were they?
In his first win of the day, Eta lost a sandal but gained his footing. He approached Mel slowly, with open palms that said, woah Nelly, or look officer, this blood was here before I clocked in.
"Stay away from me!" Mel wanted to scream, but instead force-vomited a spout of black liquid into the leather-worker’s face. It was the same liquid all those things were marinating in. Those things which weren’t logs. She pieced it together then vomited again, this time with a bit more feeling. Eta backed off, apparently satisfied. Mel gasped, coughed, and then sucked in the kind of breath that a drowning man would kill for (assuming he’s one of those murder-to-live types). And though she didn’t realize it, Melania Trump drew the first breath of her second life.
An old man appeared at the foot of the bridge. His general impression was akin to the look of a goblin that thinks it’s a human being. Let’s call this old-balls Nattō (which is an easy name to remember, because I hate the food called Nattō and you should too). The old man yanked a long fire pole off of a fishing boat. Then, like an ant toting a cherry stem, he hoisted the pole high and resumed his approach. As he passed the along river, Nattō’s lantern bathed its surface in a sodium yellow. The lantern swung out, and under the warm light Mel saw chests, shoulders, and the vacant, mask-like faces of dozens of human bodies. Mel had been in there with them. Adrift in oblivion.
She crouched and tried to retch again. No dice, empty tank. Moaning softly, she hung her head between her knees and failed at taking deep, cleansing breaths. The air smelled earthy and cold, with a hint of spice, like a morgue on Thanksgiving. Eta, who was evidently not great with easy-to-remember rules, placed his weathered hand on Mel’s shoulder. She slapped it away, but not before observing that he was as pale as the bodies in the river.
"Don’t touch me!"
Eta brightened, perhaps because technically a pretty lady was speaking to him.
"Don’t let her get away, Eta!" said Nattō.
Though she previously had no intention to run, Nattō’s command triggered some lizard brain reflex and Mel found herself sprinting headlong down the muddy bank. Nattō froze as the five-foot-eleven amazon bore down on him. The old-balls adopted a horse stance and did his best impression of someone who could stop Melania Trump. Easily sidestepping Nattō, Mel shoved him hard and watched him topple into the drink. The lantern died with a hiss and Mel scrambled across the darkened bridge.
"Wait!" called Eta.
Clearing the far side of the river, Mel cinched her robe and raced towards the woods.
"Please," sputtered Nattō, "come back!"
The wayward corpse of some fatso caught the old man off guard and dragged him downstream. Eta hesitated, then sloshed into the river after him.
Once they returned to the shore, the men watched Mel disappear into the forest. Nattō wrung out his sleeve then struck Eta with his tiny hand. Don’t worry, we’re talking golf ball versus cantaloupe here.
"You imbecile," Nattō said, "she’ll be killed!"
"Maybe she’ll be one of the lucky ones."
Nattō wiped his spectacles and spat a wad of murk onto the embankment.
"I mean," Eta said, "maybe they’ll only take her bones."
[End of Scene 1]